On the identity of roots

Abstract

This paper attempts to articulate the essential nature of the notion ‘root’ in the morphosyntax. Adopting a realizational (Late Insertion) view of the morphosyntactic model, the question of whether roots are phonologically individuated, semantically individuated, or not individuated at all in the syntactic component are addressed in turn. It is argued that roots cannot be phonologically identified, since there are suppletive roots, and they cannot be semantically identified, since there are roots with highly variable semantic content, analogous to ‘semantic suppletion'. And yet, they must be individuated in the syntax, since without such individuation, suppletive competition would be impossible. Roots must therefore be individuated purely abstractly, as independent indices on the √ node in the syntactic computation that serves as the linkage between a particular set of spell-out instructions and a particular set of interpretive instructions. It is further argued that the syntactic √node behaves in a syntactically unexceptional way, merging with complement phrases and projecting a √P. The correct formulation of locality restrictions on idiosyncratic phonological and semantic interpretations are also discussed.

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Theoretical Linguistics is an open peer review journal. Each issue contains one long target article about a topic of general linguistic interest, together with several shorter reactions, comments and reflections on it. With this format, the journal aims to stimulate discussion in linguistics and adjacent fields of study, in particular across schools of different theoretical orientations.

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